Still more school finance corruption!

On June 29, 2015 the Ashland Independent reported in “Auditor blisters Fairview school in report” that yet another case of improper use of school funds – this time in the Fairview Independent School District – is being referred to law enforcement and the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board, an indication of the seriousness of the findings.

Per the Independent, inappropriate funding actions found in the special audit included moving money from the general fund to the activities fund, especially to fund the male football program at the expense of general education activities in the district. The auditor says this football funding action probably violated federal Title IX legislation that says male and female athletics must receive the same funding. The article says the special audit provides additional information that this violation of Title IX might have been willful.

Of interest to taxpayers, while the district allowed the football team to run up an operational deficit which was later covered by the apparently inappropriate fund transfers, taxpayers were hit with a major increase in local school taxes.

There are also findings that the district’s superintendent used a district credit card for personal purchases and engaged in other questionable activities including using intimidation.

This latest State Auditor report adds to cases from the Dayton Independent School District and the Mason County School District which have seen one former superintendent sent to federal prison and another facing court in a few months.

As the State Auditor has continuously pointed out, the activities uncovered are damaging education. They need to stop.

It’s Official: The Feds Will Collect Psycho-Social Data On Your Child

The Federalist has a major article out about US Government plans to go well beyond academic testing of the country’s children. It’s a very disturbing thought-provoker.

Apparently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the Nation’s Report Card or the NAEP, will be one collection vehicle for this new material even though the article claims present laws about this federal assessment program prohibit it from collecting such data.

Please provide your comments on this one.

Do Kentuckians really overwhelmingly support the Common Core State Standards?

The Kentucky Department of Education started something called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge about 10 months ago.

The Challenge was supposed to collect comments from the public about the Kentucky standards, which are basically just cut-and-paste adoptions of the Common Core State Standards.

Today, the department issued News Release 15-066 with the title, “KENTUCKIANS STRONGLY SUPPORT CURRENT ACADEMIC STANDARDS.” The article says:

“Overall, 88 percent of the respondents gave the standards a ‘thumbs up’ and did not indicate any changes were needed.”

But, can this really tell us what the average Kentuckian thinks about the Common Core?

The response to the Challenge was in no way a valid random sample of Kentuckians. Instead, only those interested made comments to the department. Biases in this sample of Kentuckians are obvious.

The news article says the department got 4,000 responses, about half from teachers. Another 8 percent of the total submissions came from school administrators.

According to the US Census, 4,399,583 people were living in Kentucky in 2013. About 23.1 percent of them were under the age of 18, which works out to about 1,016,303 under age residents. So, there were about 3,383,280 adults in the state that year.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, in 2013 the state had 43,767 teachers.

So, teachers only comprised about 1.2 percent of the state’s total adult population but made up about half of the Challenge respondents.

Clearly, the News Release title is seriously misleading. The department does not have sufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about what Kentuckians think. In fact, with only about 2,000 teachers responding, we only know about the opinions of around 4.6 percent of our teachers. Maybe the others are happy; maybe they are not. And, maybe other teachers are too afraid to speak out.

One more thing: The rules for the Challenge were clear, and restrictive. They only allowed for comments to change specific standards, not to make massive changes or to throw out the whole set of standards. Furthermore, the separate, and controversial, science standards were not even open for comment.

So, those who had major disagreements with the standards probably didn’t even bother to reply to this biased program, which really makes the title of the news release inaccurate.

Kentucky’s dropout law’s unintended consequences

No, I didn’t write the recent Kentucky Enquirer article with this title, “Kentucky’s dropout law has unintended consequences.” I didn’t even talk to the reporter who wrote it.

But, we’ve been pointing out problems with the idea of forcing the unwilling to stay in school until they reach 18 years of age for several years. Now, it looks like some chickens are coming home to roost with this dubiously crafted Kentucky law.

One specific problem at issue in the news article is forcing students who dropped out under the old Age 16 rule to now return to school until they reach Age 18. These kids are now way behind and probably won’t be able to make up what in many cases is a crushing credit hour deficiency.

But, the law didn’t include any grandfathering, so those kids not yet 18 years old will be breaking the law if they don’t show up for school when the next term starts.

I hope nothing worse comes from this than disgruntled kids stuck in classrooms where they won’t pay attention but probably will grow still more hostile to the school system they already left – once.

How much better things would be if kids who dropped out were really given hope and encouragement that they can make it if they return to school. That sort of encouragement doesn’t seem to be happening with the young lady from Boone County that the article talks about, unfortunately. What makes this worse is that Boone County is actually far better run, in my opinion, than lots of other school systems in the state. So, if Boone County isn’t making things enticing for the about-to-be-forced-back dropouts, I can only imagine what is happening elsewhere around the state.

Bluegrass Beacon: Obamacare’s king and his court

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: This column contains revisions from the original version that was released to newspapers prior to the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision.

The Supreme Court’s disastrous King v. Burwell decision provides a relevant and timely opportunity for thoughtful Obamacare critics of the “repeal-and-replace” stripe to push President Obama’s administration to return control of health-care policy to where it belongs: the states.

Both do-gooder progressives and squishy conservative-types should remember that bullying states to establish exchanges and individuals not only to purchase health care but also be forced to pay for goods and services they neither want nor use – subsidies or not – is noticeably missing from the Constitution’s enumerated purview of the federal government’s power.

It’s bad enough that Obamacare unconstitutionally expands such reach with its 2,700-page bill and ensuing 11.6 million additional words regulating the policy.

Worse, when Obama’s own law proves inconvenient in his attempt to force all Americans to participate, the president’s pattern is to do what he’s consistently done with the Constitution and even the obvious wishes of the people on myriad matters, including health-care policy: ignore them.

The Supreme Court decided Obama can disregard his own law, which unambiguously limits federal subsidies to health-insurance policies purchased through state-run exchanges.

Still, it’s worth reminding that Obamacare’s genius designers admit they did not include subsidies for Americans purchasing insurance through exchanges established by the feds because they know the Constitution doesn’t empower Washington to force states to establish exchanges.

Instead, they made subsidies available only through state-run exchanges, believing such a policy ploy would result in making it impossible for states to resist the easy money of subsidies dangled in front of both legislators and their constituent-recipients of those benefits.

While Kentucky was one of 13 states and the District of Columbia to take the bait, more than two-thirds of states refused – an indication not only of Obamacare’s unpopularity outside the Beltway but also of just how deep state lawmakers’ concerns run over the reform’s uncontained costs, unknown consequences and uncertain future.

Obama responded by ordering the beloved IRS to issue a regulation providing subsidies for health insurance purchased on federal exchanges, notwithstanding the law that bears his own name.

A significant impact of the court’s unlawful ruling allowing people who purchased insurance through a federally established exchange to receive subsidies is that it also lets the despised mandates requiring employers and individuals to provide and purchase coverage, respectively, to continue – as Obamacare allows such mandates only where subsidies also are permitted.

Had the court ruled against the subsidies, it also would essentially have ended the mandates and caused Obamacare itself to implode.

“They would be pulling the fangs out of Obamacare,” David Adams, a vocal critic of the reform in Kentucky, said.

Even with the court’s ruling, Obama could pressure Congress to “just fix three words” so the coverage of millions through this big-government approach is forever sealed.

However, a study designed by the Leavitt Partners to assist governors and state legislators in developing a productive response to the court’s ruling encourages state policymakers to seize the opportunity and go to Washington – literally – in bipartisan fashion and push the administration to give them the flexibility to “advocate solutions that enhance federalism,” noting that “the administration has not shown great flexibility on ACA implementation affecting states.”

University of Kentucky economist John Garen isn’t overly optimistic about “the present administration” granting waivers that would allow states to try some more innovative health-care and insurance policies.

“But if a group of 15-20 states presents a unified set of waivers, then who knows?” Garen, Ph.D., said.

Kentucky, which subsidizes 70 percent of the 109,000 Kentuckians purchasing insurance through its state exchange known as Kynect, could profit greatly from a return to federalism that allows experiments via interjecting free-market principles into health-care policies in the states, the laboratories of democracy.

More on why and how that can happen in my next column.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Kentucky Tonight Follow-Up – What’s the real story on Kentucky’s College and Career Readiness?

I was pleased to participate in Monday’s Kentucky Tonight broadcast on KET along with Kentucky Senator Mike Wilson, Kentucky Representative Derrick Graham, incumbent head of the Prichard Committee Brigitte Blom Ramsey and guest show host Renee Shaw (show online here).

We had a lively discussion about many education issues that are likely to come up in the 2016 session of the Kentucky legislature, including the issue of charter schools. However, when so many topics are covered in only one hour, a lot gets left unsaid. So, I’ll be following up with some blogs about things you might want to know more about.

One subject was brought up repeatedly by Kentucky Representative Derrick Graham, who is the chair of the House Education Committee. This was Kentucky’s supposed rapid increase in the percentage of students who are reported as “College and Career Ready.”

Representative Graham trouped the numbers out like they were good as gold, saying around 9 minutes and 35 seconds into the broadcast that “in 2014 sixty-two percent of our students were ready for college compared to in 2010 thirty-four percent (were ready).”

In fact, the 2013-2014 Kentucky School Report Card for the state shows under the “Delivery Targets,” “CCR” tab that 34.0 percent of our high school graduates in 2010 met “College and Career Readiness (CCR) Targets” while in 2014 a total of 62.5 percent of the graduates met the targets.

If you think it sounds incredible that Kentucky could almost double readiness in just four years, your doubts are well-supported. In fact, as I blogged in December the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) has raised serious questions about the validity of the CCR numbers that are being reported. Very simply, those numbers really don’t have a lot of credibility right now. You can learn why by clicking the “Read more” link.

[Read more...]

Kentucky Tonight Follow-Up – Rest of the story on CREDO charter school studies

I was pleased to participate in last night’s Kentucky Tonight broadcast on KET along with Kentucky Senator Mike Wilson, Kentucky Representative Derrick Graham, incumbent head of the Prichard Committee Brigitte Blom Ramsey and guest show host Renee Shaw (show online here).

We had a lively discussion about many education issues that are likely to come up in the 2016 session of the Kentucky legislature, including the issue of charter schools. However, when so many topics are covered in only one hour, a lot was left unsaid. So, I’ll be following up with some blogs about things you might want to know more about.

For this first Follow-Up, I’ll discuss perhaps the biggest controversy that came up on the show, which involves reports from the Stanford University’s CREDO research team. I only had a moment on air to inject some of the “Rest of the Story,” as the late Paul Harvey liked to put it and I think Kentuckians deserve to know more.

As is almost inevitable when charter schools are discussed – one of the other guests on the show started to discuss findings from CREDO (actually The Center for Research on Education Outcomes). However, the person who brought up the CREDO reports didn’t provide the full story, which I tried to quickly inject into the conversation.

For “The Rest of the Story” about what got left out of the discussion of CREDO last night, click the “Read more” link.

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Kentucky Tonight notes from Richard Innes

I appear on KET’s Kentucky Tonight show this evening talking about education, and I thought our readers might like more information about some of the things I hope to discuss. So, here is a topic listing with links to more information. I may update this blog after the show.

Why Kentucky Needs School Choice

Achievement Gaps growing – information from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)

This blog article shows that the white minus black achievement gaps in math and reading have grown in Kentucky since KERA was enacted in 1990. We clearly need more effective education programs for our children of color, and recent research “indicates black students, students in poverty, and English language learners benefit from attending charter schools.”

NAEP scores for Jefferson County Public Schools and the National Charter School Average Scores
(Why Kentucky Needs School Choice)

This graph compares 2013 NAEP Grade 8 Math scores for Jefferson County Public Schools to the nationwide average scores for all charter schools. It is clear that even if charters were in Louisville and only produced average scores, Jefferson County students would still be better off with some charter schools in their area. All the score differences shown are statistically significantly different.

Graph of 2013 NAEP G8 Math for JeffCo and Nationwide Charters

NAEP scores show Kentucky’s white’s really lag in math

I’ve written before about this subject, but these two maps show how badly Kentucky’s white students, who make up more than 80 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment, performed against whites in other states. It is clear that claims Kentucky has moved up to about the middle of the states in education quickly evaporate when this important disaggregated data is examined.

The bitter truth is that our white students only statistically significantly outperformed students in just one other state, West Virginia, in both fourth and eighth grade NAEP math testing in 2013.

NAEP Comparison Map G8 Math

NAEP Comparison Map for G4 Math

Dubious Data

Kentucky’s College and Career Ready Rates, Credibility of (Should be called “College and/or Career Readiness Rates”)

This calculation needs some changes to become credible. At present, it is probably providing inflated data and the data cannot be confidently compared across schools and districts.

Common Core

Is Common Core working? Fall in recent EXPLORE scores

The EXPLORE is a real readiness test that shows if our eighth grade students are on track to be ready for college, and probably for most careers as well. The recent decline in Kentucky’s scores during the Common Core years is very disturbing.

Common Core was created with a “confidential” (which dictionaries define as “secret”) process

There has been a lot of nonsense about whether or not the Common Core was created in secret. The facts are that the Common Core was created in “Work Groups” set up by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and a July 1, 2009 news release clearly states:

“The Work Group’s deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.”

The release also says:

“States and national education organizations will have an opportunity to review and provide evidence-based feedback on the draft documents throughout the process.”

However, how those suggestions and all suggestions collected from the general public were actually processed in secret meetings.

Common Core only describes minimum standards

Commissioner Holliday and Governor Beshear admit this in an Op-Ed they jointly released in 2013 for one example.

Subjects like trigonometry and pre-calculus are not included, leaving Kentucky’s “advanced students” on their own. Some schools may offer good courses in Trig and Pre-Calc, but others might not because no-one in Frankfort is monitoring quality. A Common Core-only curriculum will not prepare students to enter science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) careers.

Senate Bill 1 from 2009 did not envision using Common Core

This Huffington Post article says Kentucky Commissioner of Education didn’t come up with the idea of using Common Core to satisfy requirements of Senate Bill 1 until he attended a meeting in Chicago in April of 2009. However, Governor Steve Beshear signed SB-1 on March 25, 2009.

This confirms comments from Kentucky state senator Katie Stine, who sponsored SB-1 and says the goals of this bill were higher than those found in Common Core.

The federal government was invited to get involved with Common Core from the start

In 2009 Governor Steve Beshear signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that talks about a “Federal Role” in the process. While that role was supposed to be limited to providing “financial support” and creation of new assessments, it would be a very unusual circumstance when federal strings didn’t follow federal money.

Protestations from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that the federal government horned in on Common Core are not supported by the facts. The feds were invited.

For a general outline of Common Core issues, read this article from

Innes to appear on Kentucky Tonight Monday

Richard Innes, the Bluegrass Institute’s staff education analyst, is scheduled to appear Monday, June 22, 2015 on KET’s Kentucky Tonight show. Per KET:

“Substitute host Renee Shaw and her guests discuss education. Scheduled guests: Representative Derrick Graham, chair of the House Education Committee; Senator Mike Wilson, chair of the Senate Education Committee; Richard Innes, staff education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions; and Brigitte Blom Ramsey, associate executive director for the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.”

Scheduled show air times on various KET outlets include:

  • Monday, June 22 at 8:00/7:00 pm CT on KET
  • Monday night, June 22 at 12:00/11:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday, June 23 at 7:00/6:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday, June 23 at 6:00/5:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday, June 24 at 2:00/1:00 am CT on KET
  • Wednesday, June 24 at 5:00/4:00 am CT on KETKY

This show will also be available online in the KET archives after Monday and should be accessible here.

Bluegrass Beacon: Jobless in Seattle, naïve in Lexington

BluegrassBeaconLogoWith the wondrous Triple Crown win by American Pharaoh, what are the chances that the hardest achievement in any sport will be repeated again next year as it was when Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back-to-back crowns in 1977 and 1978?

Probably better than the chance that the freight train being driven – and ridden – by populist-posturing, political-pandering politicians and their sheep-like followers to force business owners to pay an increased minimum wage can be stopped.

Restaurant owners get smacked especially hard by such poorly thought-out policies.

Eateries form a highly competitive industry operating on a very thin-and-crispy profit margin of 4 percent or less – something about which the Keynesian ideologues pushing Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council member Jennifer Mossotti’s proposal to raise the minimum wage in Kentucky’s second-largest city to $10.10 seem clueless.

Mossotti brushed aside concerns expressed at a recent Lexington Forum debate that raising the minimum wage would adversely affect business – which puts her 5 ½ lengths ahead of the field in a contest for the Politicians’ Triple Crown of Naïvety.

In fact, for a council member pushing a measure likely to cause economic harm to her constituents who also happen to be business owners that hire students, low-skilled refugees or retirees and workers themselves who depend on the extra income of a second or part-time job, Mossotti seems way in over her head – especially when it comes to the consequences of such policies.

In fact, the longer the Forum discussion went, the more naïve Mossotti appeared about the impact of her proposal on the very people she claims it will help.

After all, even some of the most ardent supporters of such government-mandated policies admit that businesses must be given time to prepare for such an increase – as evidenced by the fact that cities that have raised their minimum wage, including Louisville, often do so in steps over a period of many years.

This, of course, is in itself a blatant admission of what economically sound policymakers have always known: Increasing labor costs, which, on average, comprise 36 percent of restaurants’ earnings, always offers a detrimental effect for some involved – most often those very people whom Mossotti intends to help with such an unsophisticated policy.

This is not to question Mossotti’s intentions. It’s about the very real consequences of government trying to tell business owners how to run their operations and how much to pay their employees.

It doesn’t work.

Just ask Devin Jeran, who was jubilant about the raise he received when Seattle’s mandated that Ritu Shah Burnham, owner of Z Pizza – his employer – pay him $11 an hour beginning April 1 and $15 by 2017.

Imagine how he felt, though, when Burnham informed him that she was going out of business in August, because, despite cutting hours, raising prices, laying off one of her 12-employee staff and not even taking a paycheck herself, she simply couldn’t afford to keep the pizza parlor open.

Devin wondered aloud to a local reporter about what happened to promises made when politicians, bureaucrats and other Keynesians assured him that forcing small businesses to pay employees more than they could afford to would make life better for workers like him.

Some collectivists who spoke at a recent Lexington council hearing on Mossotti’s proposal suggested that Seattle folks be invited to come and share about their experiences with the city’s minimum-wage hikes.

I couldn’t agree more!

Devin could race here and tell the Lexington council what he told that reporter: “People like me are finding themselves in a tougher situation than ever.”

He’d have plenty of time to do so now that he’s jobless in Seattle.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at